Leary signs with Bluefield

Published 9:25 pm Thursday, April 2, 2015

King’s Fork High School senior Aireon Leary has been on quite a journey throughout his high school athletic career, and Wednesday night featured a celebration of that journey coming to a successful conclusion.

Before a group of family, friends and coaches, Leary signed on the dotted line, accepting a full athletic scholarship to play volleyball at Bluefield College.

“It’s a dream,” Leary said. “After all these four years, I’ve been just pushing and just doing my best to try and do what I love.”

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His love was not initially directed at volleyball, though.

Angelique Gatling had to force her son to try out the sport in his freshman year. She wanted him to participate in a sport to help ground him as a person, and she also saw his potential on the court.

“He couldn’t see it,” she said.

His heart was on the basketball court, not the volleyball court, but he returned for volleyball his sophomore year, and his perspective really started to change then.

At that point, he said, he started thinking, “I’m getting kind of good at this. I’m going to keep doing it,” and in his junior year, “I love this sport.”

“I was like, man, forget about basketball, I’m just going to keep doing volleyball,” he said.

He could finally see his potential.

Gatling said, “When he came to me last year, he was like, ‘I’m going to school to play volleyball.’ I said, ‘Oh, you are?’”

She said he responded, “’Yeah, I’m going to get a scholarship.’ I said, ‘Oh, you ARE?’ He said, ‘Yes, I am.’ I said, ‘Well, OK, then let’s do that.’”

Academically, he was accepted to seven different schools, including Old Dominion University, Norfolk State University, the University of Mount Olive and Bluefield.

“Bluefield was the only college that offered me a volleyball scholarship,” Leary said. “I had other looks from coaches, but I think Bluefield was my fit for me.”

During his visit at the school, he felt free to be himself and had positive interactions with students, staff and the coach. He experienced “just nothing but love and good support and good vibes from other people that were at the college.”

He said he thought, “This is something I want to be around.”

Gatling advised him on the advantages that come with going to a smaller school, but she made it clear he needed to be the one to choose for himself.

She reinforced this message after he got the offer from Bluefield and asked for her advice on what to do.

“I said, ‘Well, sleep on it tonight,’” Gatling said. “Of course, I know he didn’t sleep, because I kept hearing him move here and there.”

The next morning when she took him to volleyball practice, she asked what he decided, and she said he told her, “I’m going to Bluefield.”

Gatling said, “I’m happy with that decision, because I feel more comfortable with him there than a lot of other schools. It’s a great fit for him.”

King’s Fork activities director Randy Jessee said Leary is the first male student in school history he recalls going to college on a volleyball scholarship.

“He’s been not only a very good volleyball player, but he’s a leader in our school, he does the right thing, he’s a very disciplined young man,” Jessee said, hopeful that others will follow the example laid out before them.